New Research Capabilities

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New Research Capabilities

The KNI was recently awarded a Major Research Instrument (MRI) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which allowed for the purchase a three ion beam microscopy system for advanced nano fabrication and imaging.

New Research Capabilities

January 20, 2017

This NSF Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant enabled the acquisition of a three-ion-beam microscope, the ORION NanoFab system, from Carl Zeiss Microscopy. This system provides unprecedented resolution, precision and versatility for the fabrication and characterization of materials and devices all the way down to the nanometer scale (roughly a few times the atomic spacing).

The system is designed to seamlessly switch between gallium, neon and helium beams, so that one has the option of employing the gallium focused ion beam (FIB) to pattern materials at the micro-scale, taking advantage of the powerful yet gentle neon beam for precision nano-machining with speed, or using the helium beam to fabricate delicate sub-10 nm structures that demand extremely high machining fidelity and/or cutting of delicate materials (such as graphene) that are prone to damage by high-energy electrons or heavy-element ion beams. Its capability of maskless nano-patterning also minimizes possible contamination due to the multiple steps required in processing and removing masks.

The ORION NanoFab system will make a significant impact on interdisciplinary nanoscience research, particularly in the areas of quantum matter and technology, medical and bio-engineering, photonic and optoelectronic research, meta-materials, and renewable energy science.  The tri-beam system is currently being installed at the KNI, which provides laboratories with state-of-the-art infrastructure and houses centralized nanofabrication and nano-characterization facilities for researchers at Caltech, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and corporations and other institutes in the greater Southern California area.  As this form of tri-beam microscopy is only in its infancy, we will also be partnering with Zeiss in a technical outreach effort to bring experts together to advance new ideas and applications of the tri-beam tool. This collaborative outreach plan includes: hosting annual workshops at Caltech with industrial and global research-community users of the ORION NanoFab to exchange informationon research highlights, technical challenges, and new technical developments and applications. As part of our outreach effort we also plan to offer nanoscience “demo days” for K-12 students in which the advanced instrumentation of the ORION NanoFab and other tools in the KNI can be used to explore the nanoscopic world, as well as lectures and lab tours at Caltech to local high school students and teachers on topics of nanoscience and technology (nano-S&T) and applications of modern microscopy.